Having articulated your purpose, analyzed your audience, and reviewed notes for your presentation or document, you'll need also to decide upon its overall organization. It may be that one of the four patterns discussed previously (cause/effect, classification, comparison/contrast, and chronological) provides the structure that best helps you present your messages. If none of those work, however, consider the next two—description and problem/solution.

Like the first four, both of the additional ways can serve as the primary organizing principle of a text or as a way of arranging a smaller section.


Generally, when we think of description we think of sensory images—how something looks, feels, sounds, smells, and tastes. We may describe a roadway as lined with the blinding yellow of forsythia, the leather of a car seat as burning cold during a snowstorm, or snowflakes whistling as the wind whirls them during that same snowstorm. A smell or a taste may be acrid or pungent or sweet, lemony, smoky, bland. With such description you re-create a scene or condition so audience members can envision your experience for themselves.

Weaving some description of characters, scenes, and settings into a story or anecdote not only helps you engage the interest of audience members but offers you a palette from which to plot and present your story.

Depending on your purpose, description may not always focus only on physical detail. It may include attitudes or emotions, for example, or facets of a backstory, especially when used to characterize or differentiate a situation, a response, a proposal, an issue—almost anything. Even then, use language that is as concrete as possible, language that creates pictures in the audience's mind.


Often used in persuasive writing, the problem/solution pattern presents a particular problem and then offers the solution. The problem addressed could be internal or external, anything from a manufacturing glitch to a slump in sales to waning employee motivation and productivity.

When you choose this method of organization, you first identify the problem and provide evidence of its existence, replicating for the audience the factors that led you to recognize it in the first place. Once the problem is established, you move to a solution, the one that you believe will be most effective. Here, too, explanation and evidence are crucial; strong support will help you persuade audience members not only to accept your proposed solution but to accept its superiority over other possible solutions.

The problem/solution pattern calls for heightened awareness of your audience. If the problem is a slump in sales, for instance, a presentation to upper management will differ from one made to the sales force. Although the reasons for the slump may be the same, the solution presented to each audience may not be. Upper management has authority to alter a price point, but the sales department does not. Instead, part of the solution for that department may be to improve relationships with purchasing agents in the organizations that distribute the product.

This pattern also requires adherence to the "rule of three." Although there may be a dozen parts to a solution, focus on the three most important ones, the ones that are most likely to have a major effect. Here, a move to classification may help – divide the solutions into three major categories and then place the parts of steps into the most relevant grouping.

While description employs your best observational skills and the problem/solution pattern leans more toward your analytical ones, choose to use either when it fits your persuasive purpose and strengthens your messages. Doing so gives your audience a distinct picture of your position and may well enable them to support it.